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First Solar Plans Imperial County Photovoltaic Plant

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Imperial County farmland like this is set to go from crop plants to solar plant | Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr/Creative Commons License

First Solar, an Arizona-based company specializing in thin-film photovoltaic cells, announced yesterday that it will be building a 139-megawatt generating station in Imperial County near El Centro.

The project, called Campo Verde Solar, will be built on 1,990 acres of privately owned agricultural land south of Interstate 8 and near the town of Seeley.

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The plant already has a willing buyer for its power output: San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) agreed in May to purchase electrical power from the Campo Verde project. That power will be sent to the utility's San Diego customers via the newly commissioned Sunrise Powerlink.

The announcement is more evidence that First Solar sees sale of developed utility-scale products as an important profit center. First Solar is a leading U.S. manufacturer of the thin-film photovoltaic cells increasingly used in small-scale solar installations, but the PV cell market has been much better for buyers than it has for sellers in the last year. Selling fully-developed utility-scale installations rather than merely the PV cells used in them may well seem an attractive amendment to First Solar's business plan.

The company suffered some technical setbacks in recent months when it found its cadmium telluride-based solar cells performed less well than anticipated in extremely hot desert conditions. El Centro's average temperatures top 100 degrees for four months out of each year: It will be interesting to see how First Solar's PV holds up at Campo Verde.

Construction on the project should begin this year, with completion expected in 2013. First Solar co-owns the Campo Verde Solar project with U.S. Solar Holdings, but is in the process of buying them out.

[A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that First Solar was based in Pasadena.]

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